After an eight-month investigation, an inquiry into Australia’s horrific 2019-20 bushfire season warned in findings released Friday that the country must prepare for more catastrophic natural disasters fuelled by climate change.
The Royal Commission recommended the creation of stronger peak agencies, better warning systems, and a system for streamlined, rapid military deployments to respond to natural disasters.
The report also calls for new laws to allow the Federal Government to declare a national emergency and for an expanded aerial firefighting fleet because fire seasons have grown longer in Australia and overseas, making it harder for Australian authorities to call for assistance from other countries.
Australia’s most recent fire season, coming after months of severe drought in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales, left at least 478 people dead - including 445 smoke inhalation-related deaths. It also made thousands homeless, killed countless animals, and destroyed billions of dollars’ worth of property.
The report detailed repeated expert evidence that climate change is increasing, and will continue to increase, the frequency and intensity of natural disasters.
Former fire chiefs responded to the release of the report by urging federal and state governments to take urgent action on climate change.
Former New South Wales Fire and Rescue Chief, Greg Mullins, said the report should “totally change the landscape of emergency management” in Australia, and called on governments to implement all 80 recommendations made by the Commission.
Mr Mullins was among a group of former fire and emergency leaders who warned the Morrison government early in 2019 it was facing an unprecedented bushfire season, and called for a meeting with the prime minister throughout that year, in the lead up to the fire season.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently urged the Australian government to take “bold action” to reduce carbon emissions, a call Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister, rejected.
David Littleproud, federal emergency management minister, said cabinet may approve some of the Commission’s recommendations as early as next week.
Among its findings, the commission found there is only a "patchwork" of climate datasets across Australia and the states and territories must work together to create a national data system where analysis and information can be shared easily.
While the Commission recommended all levels of government review the assessment and approval processes for hazard reductions, iccluding but not limited to prescribed burns, it also noted that "in extreme bushfires, fuel loads do not appear to have a material impact on fire behaviour".